New Priorities: Antonio’s Story

When new kids arrive at the Ranch, sometimes it can take a little while for them to adjust. They’re in a new home with new people, and our program runs on a steady routine. If they come from tough environments, they’re even more on guard, waiting to see what life will be like here.

Antonio is from a big family—seven kids across a spectrum of ages. He’s used to a little bit of chaos. When he arrived at the Ranch, it didn’t take him long to adjust. On top of that ring of familiarity, it was also summer break. The 2021 school year hadn’t started yet, so the everyday routine in the cottage was a little more relaxed.

No school was just fine with Antonio. He remembers the moment in middle school when school stopped being a priority.

“I just stopped caring,” Antonio remembers. “I stopped doing my work and started failing.”

When his grades plummeted, the one class he cared about—band—was no longer an option. In high school, everything seemed to escalate. Not doing assignments or keeping up with homework turned into skipping school and other bad habits. Antonio’s parents were terrified that his disrespect towards his family would rub off on his siblings.

Just before Antonio came to the Ranch, he received an acoustic guitar, something he had always dreamed of. He faithfully made his way through guitar lessons, finally showing commitment to something. This attention and focus was promising, but not enough to improve his behavior or his grades.

At the Ranch, Antonio adapted quickly. He made friends with his cottage mates and passed the summer learning what life at the Ranch would look like. It wasn’t until school began in the fall that reality hit.

“I had to start trying—I mean really try—to do my schoolwork. I was supposed to fail ninth grade,” Antonio said. “But when I got here, I passed because they let you make up classes.”

The customized curriculum at Donald Ralph Cooke School helped put Antonio back on track. His teachers made sure that Antonio had the tools he needed to improve.

“It’s a smaller learning environment, so it’s easier to stay focused,” he said. “You get more one-on-one time with people that can help you.”

At the Ranch, school is just one aspect of life. Our four pillars—work, study, play and pray—help our boys and girls develop the tools they need to be successful when they return home.

Antonio soon found himself working at the Chapel on campus, helping our Chaplain keep the building clean and run the chapel service.Spending time at Chapel has opened the door for something Antonio truly loves: music. Not only was he able to continue learning how to play the guitar, but he also got the chance to try out other instruments.

“I love instruments. I play the piano, guitar, and I’m learning how to play the electric guitar and acoustic bass.”

Over the last few months, his teachers and cottage parents have seen a change in Antonio. He realized that all of his goals in life are achievable; he just has to work for them.

“I want to go into the Navy,” he said.

“My mother’s father was in the military, and once they started talking about that, it kind of caught my eye. It feels like the right thing to do.”

The local high school has a JROTC program, and Antonio was immediately interested. With his grades steadily improving, joining the program became a real possibility.

“I got really lucky because it’s Navy JROTC,” Antonio said. “So as soon as I start bringing up my grades, they’re going to talk about getting me into the program.”

Antonio has worked hard to focus on school, study for his learner’s permit, and earn the chance to apply for a job in town. But if you ask him how long he’s actually been at the Ranch, he just shrugs his shoulders.

“I stopped counting,” he said simply. “I’m not counting down the days until I have to leave. I’m more than likely going to need help for a while. I’m trying to stay here until I graduate.”

Antonio sees how much everyone wants him to succeed, and now he knows he’s capable of it. His cottage parents, his teachers, the Chaplain—everyone has the same goal: to help our kids get back on track.

“The staff here tells you about their experiences when they were young and what they did and how it’s similar to us,” Antonio said. “So they can help set us on the right path. They’re showing us what we need to do in order to reach our goals.”

Antonio knows he’s gotten lucky. This chance he has at the Ranch is something he plans to develop into a successful future.

“I want to prove to my family that I’m sorry and I’m trying to change.”